Editorial: President sends a strong, necessary message on vaping
Under President Donald Trump, the Food and Drug Administration hasn't always been clear in its position on e-cigarettes and vaping products. That appears to be changing with a welcome declaration Wednesday that the president would seek a ban on almost all vaping flavors.
Already, the FDA had been studying the health effects of vaping products, but in 2017, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb sought to ease restrictions on them. Contending that they offered an alternative to help tobacco smokers give up the habit, Gottlieb gave vaping manufacturers until 2021 to apply for approval to stay on the market. It took a federal judge to later move that date up to March 2020.
But on Wednesday, President Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless blew up that timetable.
At a meeting at the White House, Azar said the FDA will take steps to remove all vaping flavors except tobacco within 30 days, after which manufacturers would have to demonstrate that the benefit of a particular flavor or product outweighs its risks.
This will not be an easy bar to cross. The vaping industry currently is reeling from a mysterious recent outbreak involving at least 450 people who appear to have been sickened by vaping and six who died.
Even once the source of the outbreak is identified and addressed, companies still have to confront a growing body of research that appears to show that, contrary to manufacturers' stated goal of helping tobacco smokers to quit, vaping actually appears to be a gateway for many young people to take up traditional cigarettes. Plus, the introduction of an astounding array of sweet and fruity flavors -- including apple juice, bubble gum, peppermint, cotton candy and more -- appears to have generated a teen vaping craze of epidemic proportions.
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim boosted awareness of the problem locally last month when he announced a lawsuit against the leading manufacturer of vaping products, JUUL Labs. The voice of the president of the United States amplifies the message many times over and does more to get the attention of parents and children about the hazards they could face.
Of course, it helps that whatever the growing business profile of vaping companies, they lack the emotional appeal and political muscle that enable powerful special interests to block meaningful action to address gun violence and climate concerns. But we have to take health victories where we can get them, and the president's announcement Wednesday sends a strong, urgent and important message about a serious problem.